Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Latest polling data in Colorado and Washington continue to show strong support for legalization

As reported in this new Huffington Post piece, headlined "Pioneer Pot States Did The Right Thing, Polls Show," recent polling in the two states to lead the modern marijuana legalization movement indicates that three years of experience with legalization has not diminished support for these reforms.  Here are the basic details:

Support for legalized marijuana seems to be growing in Colorado and Washington state, which became the first U.S. states to regulate the weed for recreational use two years ago.

A survey released Wednesday from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shows that 56 percent of voters in Washington state approve of their state's recreational marijuana laws, while 37 percent are opposed. The opposition is lower than that in the 2012 vote to approve legalization, in which 56 percent supported the measure, and 44 percent disapproved. Moreover, a majority of Washington voters -- 77 percent -- say the marijuana laws have either had a positive effect or no effect on their lives, according to the poll.

A Qunnipiac poll last month tells a similar story in Colorado. Sixty-two percent of Colorado voters support reformed marijuana laws, the poll shows. That's an increase of 7 percentage points over the margin of support when voters approved Colorado's legalization in 2012....

Colorado became the first U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, quickly followed by Washington. The first retail shops opened in 2014. By the end of last year, voters in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., approved recreational marijuana legalization measures. By 2016, as many as 10 additional states are likely to consider reforming marijuana laws.

May 21, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Racial disparities persist in Phila. marijuana arrests"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent article via Philly.com.  Here are excerpts:

There is a robust, national conversation about police and justice reform. And by decriminalizing marijuana, Philadelphia is getting a glimpse of what that entails.

Last October, Philly became America's largest city to make marijuana possession a civil, rather than a criminal, violation. The result has been a dramatic reduction in arrests....  They are down more than 70 percent.

For decades, Philly police put anyone caught with anything from a roach up to 30 grams into handcuffs and a holding cell. The city’s new decrim policy gives officers the option of issuing a Code Violation Notice: $25 for possession and $100 for smoking in public.  The result has meant fewer interactions between cannabis consumers and police.

It’s also saving tens of thousands of hours of police time -- and a big chunk of tax dollars. The RAND Corporation this year released a that calculated a single custodial arrest costs $1,266. Using the RAND numbers, Philly may have already saved more than $1 million under the new policy from January to March this year compared to 2013.  RAND estimated that the cost of issuing citations is a mere $20....

The shift in policy has allowed police to spend more time on other crimes. Cocaine and heroin possession arrests are combined in the same code in the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System [and] while marijuana arrests have decreased there has been an uptick in arrests for harder drugs....

One of the most compelling reasons that City Council took on pot decriminalization was the disturbing racial disparity specifically in marijuana arrests.  Unfortunately, that has not changed ... [as] Black residents are still 7 times more likely to be arrested for weed than white residents. 

Some are quick to say that this disparity exists because police are heavily patrolling in neighborhoods of color. But that would mean other arrests, especially for other drugs, would have the same disparity. But that is not the case [as data shows] more white people got arrested for cocaine and heroin in Philly so far this year.  

[T]there is no statistical or procedural reason that can explain the continued brunt of marijuana enforcement on black residents. It highlights part of a bigger problem with urban policing, one that will take more than legalizing marijuana to solve.

May 20, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Congrats to Prof. Sam Kamin for becoming the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy

I was pleased on Monday to receive an e-mail press release titled "Denver-Based Vicente Sederberg LLC, One of the Nation’s Leading Marijuana Law Firms, Establishes Professorship for Marijuana Law and Policy at University of Denver Sturm College of Law." I was even more pleased to see from the first paragraph of this release that on of the occasional co-bloggers in this space was to be the first to fill this first- (but not last?) of-its-kind Professorship: 

Today, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law proudly announced that it has received a $45,000 commitment from Denver-based law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC to enable one faculty member to serve as the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy. The purpose of this three-year professorship is to allow a Sturm College of Law faculty member to dedicate time and resources toward the development of intelligent marijuana law and policy and engage students in this important work. To be held initially by Professor Sam Kamin, it is believe to be the first professorship of its kind in the world.

Sturm College of Law Dean Martin J. Katz celebrated the groundbreaking nature of this professorship, while praising the work of the firm supporting it. “Our state and our school are poised to take a leadership position in this important new area of law and policy,” said Dean Katz. “The rest of the country is watching. We need to do this right.”

“We are extremely proud of the pioneering work done by our graduates at Vicente Sederberg,” Dean Katz continued, “And we are honored to name a professorship for them, which will be held by Professor Sam Kamin, the nation’s foremost authority in this field.”

Brian Vicente, a founding partner at Vicente Sederberg and Sturm College of Law graduate, lauded the institution for its commitment to advancing this new area of the law. “As the marijuana industry expands in Colorado and around the nation and the world, there is a growing need for attorneys qualified to represent business owners,” said Vicente. “With the launch of this professorship, Sturm College of Law will be taking the lead in providing law students the training they need to enter this new field. We are proud to be able to support their efforts in this area.”

I have also been pleased to see from this post at TaxProf Blog that this news is getting a lot of (justified and sometimes jokey) attention.

May 20, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Why the GOP needs to embrace marijuana reform ASAP: "The GOP Is Dying Off. Literally."

The title of this post come from my reaction to the headline of this Politico article, which carries the headline appearing in quotes above.  Here is an excerpt that helps highlight why I think the GOP risks becoming a marginal party if it does not get on the marijuana reform bandwagon:

There’s been much written about how millennials are becoming a reliable voting bloc for Democrats, but there’s been much less attention paid to one of the biggest get-out-the-vote challenges for the Republican Party heading into the next presidential election: Hundreds of thousands of their traditional core supporters won’t be able to turn out to vote at all. The party’s core is dying off by the day.

Since the average Republican is significantly older than the average Democrat, far more Republicans than Democrats have died since the 2012 elections. To make matters worse, the GOP is attracting fewer first-time voters. Unless the party is able to make inroads with new voters, or discover a fountain of youth, the GOP’s slow demographic slide will continue election to election. Actuarial tables make that part clear, but just how much of a problem for the GOP is this?

Since it appears that no political data geek keeps track of voters who die between elections, I took it upon myself to do some basic math. And that quick back-of-the-napkin math shows that the trend could have a real effect in certain states, and make a battleground states like Florida and Ohio even harder for the Republican Party to capture.

As regular readers know, Florida had a big marijuana reform initiative on its ballot in 2014 and Ohio is headed toward an even bigger reform voter initiative in 2015.  In Florida in 2014, as has been the usual pattern, Democrats were far more inclined to endorse marijuana reform and they garnered more younger voters.   The same pattern is already playing out in Ohio in the run up to the 2015 vote.  Consider also another swing state, Virginia, in which this recent marijuana legalization poll highlights these age/opinion demographics in the state:  "Voters 18 to 34 years old support recreational marijuana 75-21 percent, while voters 35 to 54 percent support it 59-36 percent.  Voters over 55 years old are opposed 52-43 percent."   

I consider of particular importance in this political/practical setting  not only what issues are likely to attract young voters to particular parties and candidates, but also what issues are likely to motivate younger Americans to register and actually turn out to vote on election day.  Especially in Ohio, where the marijuana reform backers have a significant war chest, there is likely to be a special effort in 2015 in getting younger folks (especially college students) registered to vote AND actually voting in an off-off year election.  If new, younger voters in Ohio and elsewhere, who start getting focused on state and national politics because of marijuana reform, see GOP candidates only as vocal reform opponents (despite some having been notable marijuana users themselves like Jeb Bush), I think the bad demographic trends stressed in this Politico article are likely only to get worse for the GOP.

May 18, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Time magazine devotes cover story to "The Great Pot Experiment"

Final-pot-coverI am very pleased to see that the new issue of Time magazine has a cover with an amusing picture and this text: "The Highly Divisive, Curiously Underfunded and Strangely Promising World of Pot Science."  I have long thought that one of the biggest problems with federal marijuana prohibition has been its significant anti-science impact, and the subheading of this Time cover story highlights this theme: "Legalization keeps rolling ahead.  But because of years of government roadblocks on research, we don’t know nearly enough about the dangers of marijuana — or the benefits."  Here are excerpts from a must-read article:

Welcome to the encouraging, troubling and strangely divided frontier of marijuana science.  The most common illicit drug on the planet and one of the fastest-growing industries in America, pot remains – surprisingly – something of a medical mystery, thanks in part to decades of obstruction and misinformation by the federal government.  Potentially groundbreaking studies on the drug’s healing powers are being done to find treatments for conditions like epilepsy, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sickle-cell disease and multiple sclerosis.  But there are also new discoveries about the drug’s impact on recreational users.

The effects are generally less severe than those of tobacco and alcohol, which together cause more than 560,000 American deaths annually.  Unlike booze, marijuana isn’t a neurotoxin, and unlike cigarettes, it has an uncertain connection to lung cancer.  Unlike heroin, pot brings almost no risk of sudden death without a secondary factor like a car crash.  But science has also found clear indications that in addition to short-term effects on cognition, pot can change developing brains, possibly affecting mental abilities and dispositions, especially for certain populations.  The same drug that seems relatively harmless in moderation for adults appears to be risky for people under age 21, whose brains are still developing.  “It has a whole host of effects on learning and cognition that other drugs don’t have,” says Jodi Gilman, a Harvard Medical School researcher who has been studying the brains of human marijuana users.  “It looks like the earlier you start, the bigger the effects.”

That relatively measured tone is a far cry from the shrill warnings of Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who in the 1930s set the standard for America’s fraught debate over marijuana with wild exaggerations. “How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured,” he wrote as part of a campaign to terrify the country.  As recently as the 1970s, President Richard Nixon talked about the drug as a weapon of the nation’s enemies. “That’s why the communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff,” he was recorded saying in private. “They’re trying to destroy us.”

The official line today is better grounded in data and research.  And the new focus is squarely on brain development. “I am most concerned about possibly harming the potential of our young people,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA).... “That could be disastrous for our country.”  But decades of prohibition and official misinformation continue to shape public views.... 

As states now rush to legalize pot and unwind a massive criminalization effort, the federal government is trying to play catch-up on the science, with mixed success.  The only federal marijuana farm, at the University of Mississippi, has recently expanded production with a $69 million grant in March, and Volkow has expressed a new openness to studies of marijuana’s healing potential.   In the coming months, Uncle Sam will begin a 10-year, $300 million study with thousands of adolescents to track the harm that marijuana, alcohol and other drugs do to the developing brain.  High-tech imaging will allow researchers for the first time to map the effects of marijuana on the brain as humans age.

But scientists and others point out that a shift to fund the real science of pot still has a long way to go.  The legacy of the war on drugs haunts the medical establishment, and federal rules still put onerous restrictions on the labs around the country that seek to work with marijuana, which remains classified among the most dangerous and least valuable drugs.  “We can do studies on cocaine and morphine without a problem, because they are Schedule II,” explains Fair Vassoler, a researcher at Tufts University... who has replicated Hurd’s rat experiment with synthetic pot.  “But marijuana is Schedule I.”

May 18, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"New Challenge for Police: Finding Pot in Lollipops and Marshmallows"

Images (5)The title of this post is the headline of this new New York Times article, which includes these excerpts:

After nearly 20 years on the job, Jim Jeffries, the police chief in LaFollette, Tenn., has seen his share of marijuana seizures — dry green buds stashed in trunks or beneath seats, often double­bagged to smother the distinctive scent. But these days, Chief Jeffries is on the lookout for something unexpected: lollipops and marshmallows.

Recently his officers pulled over a Chevy Blazer driven by a couple with three children in tow. Inside, the officers discovered 24 pounds of marijuanalaced cookies and small hard candies shaped like gingerbread men, plus a tub of pungent marijuana butter perfect for making more. The bags of Kraft marshmallows looked innocent enough. But a meat injector was also found in the car. After searching the Internet, Chief Jeffries realized that the marshmallows probably had been infused with the marijuana butter and heat­sealed into their bags....

Across the country, law enforcement agencies long accustomed to seizures of bagged, smokable marijuana are now wrestling with a surge in marijuana­-infused snacks and confections transported illegally across state lines for resale.

Pot edibles, as they are called, can be much easier to smuggle than marijuana buds: They may resemble candy or home­baked goodies, and often have no telltale smell. And few police officers are trained to think of gummy bears, mints or neon­colored drinks as potential dope.

Some experts worry that smuggled pot edibles will appeal to many consumers, particularly adolescents, who are ill prepared for the deceptively slow high. Impatient novices can easily eat too much too fast, suffering anxiety attacks and symptoms resembling psychosis. Already, young children have eaten laced sweets left within reach. Many live in states where there has been no public education about responsible consumption of marijuana.

“Citizens in nonlegalization states are far less likely to be receiving those messages, so their risks are probably greater,” said Robert J. MacCoun, a professor of law at Stanford who recently co­wrote an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine urging stronger regulation of pot edibles.

There are no hard numbers for the amount of pot edibles being trafficked interstate, but police departments in a variety of jurisdictions without legal sales report seizing increasing amounts in the past year. The quantities suggest the products are intended to supply a growing demand, law enforcement officials say....

The popularity of confections laced with marijuana has caught many health officials by surprise. Pot edibles took off in 2014, the first year of recreational sales in Colorado, when nearly five million individual items were sold to patients and adult users. Demand in Colorado and Washington State has spawned a stunning assortment of snacks and sweets, from Mondo’s sugar­free vegan bars to Dixie Edibles’ white chocolate peppermint squares.

Today consumers 21 and older can legally buy pot edibles in those two states; soon adults in Oregon and Alaska will join them. Pot edibles are available to medical users in at least a half dozen of the 23 states with medical marijuana programs.

Edibles make sense for marijuana entrepreneurs. In the past, marijuana buds were sold, and the rest of the plant was usually discarded. But with an extraction machine, makers of edible products can use the entire plant. “In a world where THC becomes inexpensive, you would like to differentiate your product from other people’s products in ways that allow you to maintain a higher profit margin,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a co­author of “Marijuana Legalization,” who has studied black markets for cocaine and marijuana. “Edibles offer some opportunities for that.”...

The manufacturers themselves say they receive constant requests for outof­state shipments. James Howler, the chief executive of Cheeba Chews, based in Denver, said his team fields emails from people nationwide — from epilepsy patients in Iowa to a retired mechanic in Florida, all of whom would rather snack on marijuana than smoke it.

“The needs and curiosity from around the country can be overwhelming,” he said. Still, Mr. Howler said, he declines them all. “It is highly illegal, and stupid to think we would risk everything,” he said.

May 17, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Marijuana Prohibition Is Unscientific, Unconstitutional, And Unjust"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Jacob Sullum commentary at Forbes.  Here are excerpts:

[N]o one should pretend that marijuana prohibition was carefully considered or that it was driven by science, as opposed to ignorance and blind prejudice.  It is hard to rationally explain why Congress, less than four years after Americans had emphatically rejected alcohol prohibition, thought it was a good idea to ban a recreational intoxicant that is considerably less dangerous.

It is relatively easy, for example, to die from acute alcohol poisoning, since the ratio of the lethal dose to the dose that gives you a nice buzz is about 10 to 1.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 2,200 Americans die from alcohol overdoses each year.  By contrast, there has never been a documented human death from a marijuana overdose.  Based on extrapolations from animal studies, the ratio of the drug’s lethal dose to its effective dose is something like 40,000 to 1.

There is also a big difference between marijuana and alcohol when it comes to the long-term effects of excessive consumption.  Alcoholics suffer gross organ damage of a kind that is not seen even in the heaviest pot smokers, affecting the liver, brain, pancreas, kidneys, and stomach.  The CDC attributes more than 38,000 deaths a year to three dozen chronic conditions caused or aggravated by alcohol abuse.

Another 12,500 alcohol-related deaths in the CDC’s tally occur in traffic accidents, and marijuana also has an advantage on that score.  Although laboratory studies indicate that marijuana can impair driving ability, its effects are not nearly as dramatic as alcohol’s.  In fact, marijuana’s impact on traffic safety is so subtle that it is difficult to measure in the real world....

Even if marijuana prohibition were consistent with science and the Constitution, it would be inconsistent with basic principles of morality.  It is patently unfair to treat marijuana merchants like criminals while treating liquor dealers like legitimate businessmen, especially in light of the two drugs’ relative hazards.  It is equally perverse to arrest cannabis consumers while leaving drinkers unmolested.

Peaceful activities such as growing a plant or selling its produce cannot justify the violence that is required to enforce prohibition.  In the name of stopping people from getting high, police officers routinely commit acts that would be universally recognized as assault, burglary, theft, kidnapping, and even murder were it not for laws that draw arbitrary lines between psychoactive substances.

May 14, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Disconcerting data show problems and persistence of "racial grass gap" in Chicago

Download (1)This important Chicago Reader article by Mick Dumke spotlights issues at the intersection of marijuana reform and racial/social justice that I have been thinking about a lot lately.  The piece is headlined "Will marijuana decriminalization end the racial grass gap?: As the politics of pot shift, questions of justice remain," and merits a full read for anyone interested in these issues. Here are excerpts:

Many cannabis enthusiasts saw it as another reason to light up: in a span of three days, the Cook County state's attorney and the Illinois house both took steps to reduce penalties for marijuana possession.

But in some parts of Chicago, people were still getting busted for pot. Police made at least 212 arrests for misdemeanor possession that week, a rate of 30 per day, according to Chicago police data. More than 90 percent were in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Amid a national debate on race and the criminal justice system, the politics of pot are clearly blowing in a new direction. Simply put, it's no longer wise for an elected official to call for cracking down on low-level drug offenses. But the shift has also created a jumble of laws and policies that continue to send some people to jail for the same behavior that's overlooked, laughed off, or even celebrated for others.

It's the latest incarnation of what the Reader calls the grass gap: while people smoke marijuana all over Chicago — and Illinois, and beyond — almost everyone busted for it is black.

Ending this racial imbalance has become a top goal of elected officials and policymakers who see it as emblematic of the failed war on drugs. "Anything that takes a meaningful step toward not trapping black and brown men like myself in a cycle of poverty and prison, I'm behind," says state representative Christian Mitchell, a chief sponsor of the house bill to loosen pot penalties.

So far, though, the gap has remained stubbornly in place. In 2011 my colleague Ben Joravsky and I reported that African-Americans accounted for 78 percent of those arrested, 89 percent of those convicted, and 92 percent of those jailed for misdemeanor marijuana possession in Chicago, leaving thousands with criminal records for doing something that routinely went unpunished in other parts of the city.

Citing those findings, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance in 2012 to go easier on some pot possessors. Under the new rules, police officers were allowed to issue tickets to those caught with up to 15 grams (about half an ounce) instead of hauling them to the station to be booked and locked up.

The measure succeeded in reducing busts. In 2010, police made more than 22,000 arrests for misdemeanor possession. Last year the total fell to about 12,800, the lowest in two decades, according to police data. Yet the grass gap hardly budged. In 2014, 76 percent of those arrested for low-level pot possession were black, 19 percent were Hispanic, and 5 percent were white — almost exactly the same breakdown as before the new rules were enacted.

Disparities existed almost everywhere in the city, even in areas with relatively small black populations. African-Americans accounted for a majority of pot possession arrests in all but 97 of the city's 268 police beats. In contrast, though more whites live in Chicago, they made up the majority of arrests in only 13 beats — and in ten of those, fewer than ten people were arrested.

Marty Maloney, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, points to the drop in total arrests as a sign of the department's commitment to making enforcement "even more effective and fair." "The City's cannabis ticketing initiative has already kept thousands out of jail," he wrote in an e-mail. Unfortunately, thousands are still going there.

After being arrested, offenders are held in police lockup for hours. Many are then transferred to the county jail before they're given a court date and released. Most misdemeanor marijuana cases are eventually thrown out of court at the discretion of prosecutors and judges. Those that move forward usually involve repeat offenders, but not always. People who've spent a day or two behind bars often plead guilty in return for a sentence of the time they've already served.

All told, 1,263 misdemeanor marijuana cases resulted in jail time last year in Cook County, according to data from the circuit court clerk's office. In almost all of these cases — 84 percent — the defendants were African-American.

In short, while pot has essentially been decriminalized for some people, it still lands others behind bars. And in addition to being unfair, the system is expensive. These misdemeanor pot cases cost county taxpayers approximately $38 million in court and jail expenses in 2014....

Cops say the grass gap is the result of aggressive patrols in high-crime neighborhoods. Officers charged with reducing violence pull people aside for interviews — Chicago's version of stop and frisk. While arrests consume two to four hours of an officer's time, police say they can also be useful in leveraging drug sellers and gang members for information, or simply getting them off the street for awhile.

When low-level possession is decriminalized, police will probably issue more tickets — but even then African-Americans will bear the brunt of enforcement. That's what's happened in Chicago. As marijuana arrests fell, the number of cannabis citations shot up from 1,074 in 2013 to 4,032 in 2014, police data show. And the vast majority — 78 percent — were issued to African-Americans. Just 16 percent went to Hispanics and 5 percent to whites.

When possible, cops will arrest offenders on different charges — such as possessing more than 15 grams, or possessing with the intent to deliver, the formal charge for dealing. Police, prosecutors, and politicians acknowledge that decriminalization won't address the economic roots of the grass gap either. Many of those prosecuted in the last couple years are repeat offenders who appear to have been selling to make money, according to police reports and court records.

A few prior posts on racial justice and marijuana reform:

May 11, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 8, 2015

"Policy Strategies to Reduce Youth Recreational Marijuana Use"

The title of this post is the title of this short paper authored by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and published in the journal Pediatrics. Here is a excerpt that highlights the paper's coverage:

Legalization of marijuana for recreational use among adults could significantly increase access to the drug among youth and is a growing concern for pediatric health in the United States.  In a January 2015 policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirmed its opposition to legalization of recreational marijuana because of potential harms to youth.  Alongside efforts to promote prevention and treatment, it advocated for decriminalization (reducing criminal penalties for marijuana possession) to reduce adverse effects of felony convictions on youth, especially minorities....

Experiences with tobacco and alcohol provide context for building a strong regulatory environment and offer 4 priorities for recreational marijuana regulation (summarized in Table 1) that could help advance the AAP’s goals of protecting child and adolescent health.

May 8, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 4, 2015

SCOTUS asks for views from US Solicitor General on original lawsuit between states over marijuana reform

Via this order list, the US Supreme Court called for the views of the Solicitor General in the original case of Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado.  That is the case, as readers may recall from posts here and here back in December, in which two states filed suit directly in the Supreme Court seeking "a declaratory judgment stating that Sections 16(4) and (5) of Article XVIII of the Colorado Constitution [legalizing and regulating marijuana sales] are preempted by federal law, and therefore unconstitutional and unenforceable under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution."

I am not sure what the usual timelines tend to be for submission of CVSG briefs during this time of year, but I would think this request from the Justices will just now further slow the resolution of a suit that was filled five months ago and will remain in limbo now until the Solicitor General weighs in.

Prior related posts:

May 4, 2015 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

If you let them build it, they will come: NY discovering how many have dreams of marijuana fields

Images (8)Especially during baseball season, I am inclined to call "Field of Dreams" my all-time favorite sports movie.  Consequently, I often think of the movie's most famous line In this post — "if you build it, they will come" — when I see headlines like this one from this New York Post article, "Hundreds vie for just 5 NY medical marijuana licenses." Here are some of the details: 

The race is on to secure the five licenses to be granted under New York state’s medical marijuana program, which takes effect in January. And the cash-crop lottery could bring in millions for the winners.

Statewide revenues will likely total $239 million in 2016 and more than $1.2 billion by 2020, according to a report issued by GreenWave Advisors late last year. “Let the cash register ring for New York state,” says GreenWave’s Matt Karnes. And there appears to be no shortage of investors looking to dip a hand into this cash register.

Venture capitalists willing to take the plunge include Privateer Holdings and Tilray, both of which have already had a strong presence in the legal marijuana space. In addition, the buzz would have it that there is a “major Wall Street broker-dealer“ placing a bet, according to one source.

At last count, there were some 300 applicants poised to spend $10,000 apiece to be considered for one of the licenses via applications that were sent out by the state last week, say industry insiders.

Each of the five winners will then have to cough up a $200,000 registration fee in return for being able to grow and sell medical marijuana via as many as four dispensaries each, for a grand total of 20 statewide.

The new program, which is far more restrictive than medical marijuana advocates had hoped, bans smoking the plant but allows the sale of oils, edibles and vapor forms of the drug. The law allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana only for HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, epilepsy, some spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis.

May 3, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 20, 2015

New Brookings series starts by identifying "12 key people to watch in marijuana policy"

Regular readers already know that The Brookings Institution has been committed to doing thoughtful and cutting-edge research, reports and blogging on the legal, political and social realities surrounding modern marijuana reform.   Today, the front-page of the Brookings website has this announcement and link:

In the past few years, marijuana policy has emerged as a key issue in American politics. In this post — the first in the FixGov blog's 4/20 blog series — John Hudak lays out 12 people to watch in the future of marijuana policy.

I very much like John's list of a dozen key marijuana reform players, and here I will note how he introduces his list and a few of its first four notable names:

Marijuana policy has emerged as a key issue in American politics, particularly over the past few years. The issue is being debated at local, state, and federal levels, and has captured the attention of media organizations and research institutions nationwide and around the world.

Navigating the policy terrain and understanding what is happening in this fast-paced, dynamic, and changing arena is often tough.  Knowing who is influential can be even more difficult. Because of the expansive nature of the policy conversation there are hundreds of key players making a difference — on both sides of this issue — and that list is seemingly ever growing.

In this post, I list 12 people who each bring something interesting to the table and may play an important role in the future of this policy area.  They may not be the most important, though surely some of the people on this list could be considered so. Nor is this list ranked in order of importance or impact. Instead, it offers a brief overview of how these 12 individuals may help shape the future of cannabis policy....

1. Hillary Clinton, 2016 Presidential Candidate

2. Rand Paul, U.S. Senator & 2016 Presidential Candidate

3. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General

4. Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General designee

April 20, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 17, 2015

"Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It's time for a medical marijuana revolution"

150414135452-weed-3-sanjay-gupta-medium-plus-169The title of this post is the headline of this new CNN commentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, which is something of a preview of a new documentary on medical marijuana titled "Weed 3: The Marijuana Revolution" airing at 9 pm Sunday on CNN. Here is how the commentary starts:

I see signs of a revolution everywhere.  I see it in the op-ed pages of the newspapers, and on the state ballots in nearly half the country.  I see it in politicians who once preferred to play it safe with this explosive issue but are now willing to stake their political futures on it.  I see the revolution in the eyes of sterling scientists, previously reluctant to dip a toe into this heavily stigmatized world, who are diving in head first.  I see it in the new surgeon general who cites data showing just how helpful it can be.

I see a revolution in the attitudes of everyday Americans.  For the first time a majority, 53%, favor its legalization, with 77% supporting it for medical purposes.  Support for legalization has risen 11 points in the past few years alone.  In 1969, the first time Pew asked the question about legalization, only 12% of the nation was in favor.

I see a revolution that is burning white hot among young people, but also shows up among the parents and grandparents in my kids' school.  A police officer I met in Michigan is part of the revolution, as are the editors of the medical journal, Neurosurgery.  I see it in the faces of good parents, uprooting their lives to get medicine for their children -- and in the children themselves, such as Charlotte, who went from having 300 seizures a week to just one or two a month.  We know it won't consistently have such dramatic results (or any impact at all) in others, but what medicine does?

I see this medical marijuana revolution in surprising places.  Among my colleagues, my patients and my friends.  I have even seen the revolution in my own family.  A few years ago, when I told my mother I was investigating the topic for a documentary, I was met with a long pause.

"Marijuana...?" She whispered in a half questioning, half disapproving tone.  She could barely even say the word and her response filled me with self-doubt.  Even as a grown man, mom can still make my cheeks turn red and shatter my confidence with a single word. But just last week she suddenly stopped mid-conversation and said, "I am proud of you on the whole marijuana thing." I waited for the other shoe to drop, but it didn't. Instead, she added, "You probably helped a lot of people who were suffering."

April 17, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An international perspective, via Uraguay, on marijuana reform

As highlighted in many prior posts, students in my marijuana law school seminar are in the midst of assembling readings and leading discussions concerning the research topic(s) that are the focal point for class project(s).  This week, in addition to discussions of law enforcement, tax and black market issues, a student is scheduled to discuss international marijuana reform.   Here are links to the student-assembled readings on this topic:

CATO working paper, "Marijuana Policy in Colorado" 

Article from The Huffington Post, "There's A Lot More To Uruguay's Legal Weed Than The $1-A-Gram Price"

CATO commentary, "International Analysis: Uruguay and Marijuana Legalization"

CNN commentary, "Finally, a nation legalizes pot"

April 16, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (7)

Friday, April 10, 2015

"What’s Right for Ohio: A Discussion about Marijuana Reform"

The title of this post is the title for a terrific event scheduled to take place on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 12noon in the William B. Saxbe Law Auditorium at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. I am so very pleased and excited that this event was constructed and will be moderated by one of the students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar, and here is his description of the event with titles/links for some participants:

What’s Right for Ohio: A Discussion about Marijuana Reform will be a discussion about the central issues and interests surrounding marijuana reform in the state of Ohio. With public opinion polls showing that support for recreational marijuana in Ohio has grown above 50%, and as skepticism about the policy of absolute prohibition abounds, the state of Ohio is at the forefront of the marijuana reform debate unfolding nationwide. This discussion will seek to inform the debate that will develop around Ohio in the coming months and years regarding what we, as Ohioans, think the right policy for our state and our country should be. As we know from history, as Ohio goes, so goes the nation. Confirmed participants in the event include:

April 10, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Colorado files SCOTUS brief responding to neighbors' lawsuit (and other states provide amicus support)

As reported in this Denver Post piece, headlined "Colorado officials defend marijuana legalization at U.S. Supreme Court," Colorado state lawyers have now officially responded, four months after the initial complaint, to the lawsuit filed by Oklahoma and Nebraska about marijuana reform in the Mile High State. Here are the basics:

Arguing that two neighboring states are dangerously meddling with Colorado's marijuana laws, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman on Friday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a landmark lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma over marijuana legalization. In a brief submitted in response to the lawsuit, Coffman wrote that Nebraska and Oklahoma "filed this case in an attempt to reach across their borders and selectively invalidate state laws with which they disagree."

The two states' lawsuit seeks to strike down Colorado's licensing of recreational marijuana stores. Nebraska and Oklahoma officials argue that the stores have caused a flood of marijuana into their states, stretching their law enforcement agencies thin and threatening their sovereignty.

But Coffman argued the lawsuit, if successful, would only worsen problems involving black-market marijuana in all three states. Colorado's regulations for marijuana stores "are designed to channel demand away from this black market and into a licensed and closely monitored retail system," she wrote. If the stores are closed, Colorado would be left with laws that legalize marijuana use but do not regulate its supply. "This is a recipe for more cross-border trafficking, not less," Coffman wrote.

Friday's brief is the first time Colorado officials have had to make a full-throated argument in favor of the state's marijuana legalization laws. In doing so, the brief spends several pages noting states' lengthy history of trying to regulate marijuana, "a product whose use is staggeringly widespread." Nearly half of all states now have laws legalizing recreational or medical use of marijuana, the brief states....

Nebraska and Oklahoma filed their lawsuit directly with the Supreme Court because it involves a dispute between states. Before the lawsuit gets a hearing, the nation's highest court must first decide whether to take up the case. There is no timeline for the decision.

The lawsuit does not challenge Colorado's laws for medical marijuana use or sales, nor does it seek to strike down laws legalizing recreational marijuana use and possession. Instead, Nebraska and Oklahoma argue in the lawsuit that Colorado's licensing of marijuana stores "has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system."...

In a statement Friday, Coffman — a Republican who opposed marijuana legalization — said she shares Nebraska and Oklahoma's concerns about illegal marijuana trafficking. Coffman's brief, though, pins the blame for that trafficking not on Colorado's marijuana stores but on "third parties who illegally divert marijuana across state lines." The brief points to the recent indictments of 32 people accused in a massive marijuana-smuggling ring as evidence that Colorado authorities are continuing to bust traffickers.

Colorado's laws received support Friday from Coffman's counterparts in Washington state and Oregon — where recreational marijuana is also legal. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday in support of Colorado's laws, Washington and Oregon attorneys general argue that Colorado's laws don't hurt Nebraska and Oklahoma's abilities to enforce their own laws.

"Nebraska and Oklahoma retain the constitutional powers of every other sovereign State in the nation," the brief argues. "They can investigate and prosecute persons who violate their laws; neither is powerless to address marijuana within their borders."

The full 35-page brief filed by Colorado is available at this link.

I tentatively predict that the Supreme Court will refuse to hear this case, but I confidently predict that most everything about modern marijuana law and policy is pretty darn unpredictable.

Some prior related posts:

March 28, 2015 in Court Rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Too many marijuana candies and handgun make for suicidal mix in sad Colorado case

After three years of legalization and 15 months of recreational sales, there is now another sad case in which a premature death apparently can be closely connected to the consumption of edible marijuana.   This local story, headlined "Keystone visitor commits suicide after eating marijuana candies," provides these details:

A Tulsa, Oklahoma man visiting Keystone committed suicide after consuming a large amount of edible marijuana candies, according to a Summit County Coroner’s report. Summit County Coroner Regan Wood said the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. Luke Gregory Goodman, 22, was staying in Keystone with his cousin at the time of the incident, and was taken to Summit Medical Center Saturday night. Later, he was flown to St. Anthony’s Lakewood Hospital, where he was kept on life support for two days until he died Tuesday morning.

Wood said that Goodman’s cousin reported he and Goodman had consumed edibles earlier Saturday. A CBS4 report says Goodman bought $78 of edible marijuana with his cousin, Caleb Fowler, in Silverthorne. Goodman consumed five peach tart candies in total, each containing 10 mg of the active ingredient in marijuana, the recommended dose for an adult. The back of the package said the candies were supposed to take 1-2 hours take effect.

According to CBS4, Fowler said that several hours later, Goodman became “jittery” then incoherent and talking nonsensically. “He would make eye contact with us but didn’t see us, didn’t recognize our presence almost. He had never got close to this point, I had never seen him like this,” Fowler said.

Later, when his family left the condo, Goodman refused to join them. According to the report, Goodman may have used a handgun he normally carried for protection. Taneil Ilano, a Public Information Officer with the Summit County Sheriff’s Department, said a witness reported that Goodman consumed about four marijuana edibles that day, described as gummy bears. She added that police were dispatched around 10 p.m. on Saturday.

Luke Goodman’s mother, Kim Goodman, told CBS4 that her son had no signs of depression or suicidal thoughts, and believed the large amounts of edibles triggered his death. “It was 100 percent the drugs,” she said. “It was completely because of the drugs — he had consumed so much of it.”

The toxicology results are pending and will take about three weeks to be finalized.

As noted in this prior post from nearly a year ago, in the first part of 2014 two deaths in Denver were linked to marijuana intoxication .  I have been pleasantly surprised that there have not been more of these kinds of tragic cases resulting from misuse of the drug, but my heart now  goes out to everyone connected to this latest tragic incident.

Prior related post:

March 26, 2015 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (4)

Comparing successful state recreational marijuana initiatives and Ohio proposals

In addition to having a notable guest speaking in my marijuana law school seminar this week (basics here), and having one student do a presentation on drugged driving (basics here), another student this week is giving a presentation on textual and substantive similarities between the adult-use recreational marijuana initiatives/regimes that have been enacted in four states to date (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington)  and Ohio's three recreational marijuana proposals.  Links to basic legal information about the four legalization states can be found via this NORML webpage, and the basic text or a summary of the Ohio proposals are here:

 
 
 
 
 
 

March 26, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Calling out political hypocrisy in discussion of marijuana reform

This recent commentary about marijuana reform from The National Memo, which is headlined "Half A Heart On Marijuana Better Than No Heart At All," makes a powerful point about what some politicians say about modern marijuana reform in light of their own admitted history with this drug. Here are excerpts from the piece which caught my attention:

Jeb Bush admits to having smoked pot in high school.  Actually, Bush’s dorm room at Phillips Academy Andover reportedly served as stoner central, where students would smoke hash to the strains of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.”

Kids from modest backgrounds were being jailed at that time for doing far less.  Today, even a minor drug conviction bars one from many jobs, including joining the military. Yet Florida’s former Republican governor evidently doesn’t think his illegal behavior should disqualify him from serving as commander in chief.  Why would he?  The current holder of that job, President Barack Obama, also admitted to smoking pot, as did his predecessor, Jeb’s brother George W. Bush.

If Jeb owned up to the rank injustice and fully supported ending the war on marijuana, that might lighten the hypocrisy factor.  But Bush piously insists that he’s against legalizing marijuana.  If states want to do it, that’s OK, he says.  But that leaves the vast majority of Americans subject to arrest for smoking a joint after dinner.

Here’s an idea.  Why doesn’t Bush volunteer to do the time behind bars that youths from less powerful families were being sentenced to in the 1960s?  He could share a cell with Patrick Kennedy, the former liberal congressman from Rhode Island.

In the wee hours of May 4, 2006, Rep. Kennedy crashed his car into a barricade on Capitol Hill while under the influence of who knows how many controlled substances. He served in Congress for four more years, leaving at a time of his choosing.  Kennedy is now a staunch foe of legalizing marijuana, but, like Bush, has not offered to do his time. Given Kennedy’s decades of addiction, that would be no small piece of change.

Many argue that marijuana at high potency and in great quantity can be harmful.  That may be so, but the same is true of many things we can legally consume.  If states’ rights is the excuse for easing up on the ludicrous drug war, so be it. Any change that makes life less miserable for good people — and saves the taxpayers huge sums — is to be cheered. But oh, the waste!

March 24, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lots of great new (law student) commentary at Drug Law & Policy